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Why UN gridlock on Syria could encourage Israel to attack Iran

If the UN Security Council can't take action against Syria, then Israel might well conclude that the council will be impotent to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. 

By Staff writer / February 7, 2012

Portuguese representative Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral (l.) and South African representative Baso Sangqu (r.) glance at Russian representative Vitaly Churkin (c.) as they vote in support of a draft resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, which was later vetoed by Russia and China, during a meeting of the United Nations Security Council at United Nations headquarters on Saturday.

Jason DeCrow/AP

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UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.

As Israel continues a lively debate on whether or not to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, the downbeat view in diplomatic circles at the United Nations is that the Security Council’s gridlock on Syria increases the chances of an Israeli attack.

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The diplomatic disarray over Syria sends the message that other daunting regional problems, such as the Iranian nuclear crisis, may also be out of reach of a negotiated solution, some diplomatic experts say. And with Russia so blatantly taking the side of its friend and client in the region, Syria's Assad government, Israel may well conclude that the same scenario would probably be repeated if world powers (including Russia) were to again try negotiating with Iran.

“The Security Council’s inability to act on Syria increases the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran,” says Michael Doyle, a former UN official now specializing in foreign and security affairs at Columbia University in New York. “Violence begets violence, and if Syria sinks into a civil war, which seems all the more likely now, Israel could see the growing instability as cover or as an added incentive to act."

"That’s all the more true,” he adds, “if the Security Council is nonfunctional.”

Israel’s calculations on Iran are just one area where the reverberations of Saturday’s veto by Russia and China of a Security Council resolution on Syria are likely to be felt. Russia appeared cognizant of the effect, on Tuesday sending Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Damascus to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. Lavrov told Russian media that President Assad wants to end the violence in his country and will soon present a reform plan including a new constitution and free elections. But reports of attacks by government forces against civilian populations, particularly in the embattled city of Homs, continued to mount even as Lavrov concluded his visit.

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